As we’re still getting used to the fact that Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, is more than 20 years old, we were tempted to mark the passing of time with a chronology of the band. But then we realized that made us feel old, so we’re embracing our inner child with the ABCs of Pearl Jam.
A is for Abbruzzese, Dave, the Mesquite-raised drummer who played for Pearl Jam from 1991 to 1994, when he was fired by other band members “in order to pursue a philosophy which they perceive as incompatible with mine.” Also for: Ament, Jeff, the band’s bass player and co-founder, and Alive, one of its breakthrough songs.
B is for Black, the brooding ballad from Ten. Eddie Vedder explained in the Pearl Jam Twenty documentary that the song is about first relationships. “The song is about letting go,” said Vedder. “It’s very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull and where it’s going to take people and how they’re going to grow.” Also for: Better Man, the hit single, and Binaural, the 2000 album.
C is for Cameron Crowe, who gave Pearl Jam some key exposure in his 1992 movie Singles, in which group members appeared as the band “Citizen Dick.” Crowe would go on to direct Pearl Jam Twenty to mark the band’s 20th anniversary in 2011.
D is for Dissident, a minor radio hit from 1993’s Vs., the group’s second album. Vedder has described the song as being about a woman who takes in, and then betrays, a man on the run, and then has to live with the guilt.
E is for Even Flow, the FM hit about homelessness from debut album Ten. It’s also for Evenflo, a company that makes products for babies, which as far as we can tell has no connection to the song.
F is for flannel, the cloth of choice for Pearl Jam and other Seattle bands, and many of their fans, in the early to mid-’90s.
G is for … you thought we were gonna say “grunge,” right? Well, we were, but it’s too predictable, so we’re gonna go with Glorified G, a song about gun ownership reportedly inspired by Vedder’s outrage that Abbruzzese had bought a couple of guns. Also for: Gossard, Stone, Pearl Jam’s guitarist and co-founder.
H is for Hovercraft, an experimental band co-founded by bassist Beth Liebling as an alternative to grunge. Liebling happens to have been married to Eddie Vedder, and he played drums for Hovercraft during one of its tours.
I is for Irons, Jack, the former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer who recommended Vedder as a singer for Ament and Gossard’s project. Irons would go on to become Pearl Jam’s drummer for several mid- to late-’90s albums. Also for: “I, I, oh, I’m still alive,” the bellowed refrain from Alive.
J is for Jeremy, Pearl Jam’s song about a teenager who commits suicide in front of a classroom, reportedly inspired by an actual incident in Richardson. Mark Pellington, who won an MTV Video Music Award for directing the song’s controversial video, went on to direct the 1999 movie Arlington Road and several episodes of Cold Case.
K is for Krusen, Dave, the group’s original drummer. He plays on Ten, but left the band shortly afterward. He has gigged in several other bands, most notably Candlebox, which had a couple of alternative-radio hits in the ’90s (although he joined after the band had its biggest hit with Far Behind). He continues to record and perform.
L is for Last Kiss, Pearl Jam’s cover of J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ morbid one-hit wonder (written by Wayne Cochran) about a guy who loses his girl when she’s killed in a car accident during a date. Jeremy, Even Flow and Alive may be Pearl Jam’s landmarks, but none of them made the Billboard top 40, while Last Kiss went to No. 2, Pearl Jam’s biggest chart hit.
M is for Mother Love Bone, the Seattle-area band whose vocalist, Andrew Wood, died of a heroin overdose in 1990 — leading guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament to assemble a new band, which became Pearl Jam. M is also for NBA player Mookie Blaylock, which was Pearl Jam’s original name (the album title Ten comes from Blaylock’s uniform number). It’s also for Mike McCready, Pearl Jam’s lead guitarist.
N is for Nirvana, the first face on the grunge Mount Rushmore that would also include Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, although Pearl Jam would go on to be a bigger-selling band than Nirvana. Also for: No Code, Pearl Jam’s 1996 album, and the ’90s, which were good to grunge bands — for the first half of the decade, at least.
O is for Oceans, a cut from Ten that isn’t as well known as the album’s big FM hits, but that was later released as a single. In 2009, as Pearl Jam was preparing a re-release of Ten, Gossard and Ament told the online music magazine The Line of Best Fit that it’s their favorite song on the album. Vedder, an avid surfer, joked on MTV Unplugged that it was “a little love song I wrote about my surfboard.” It’s reportedly actually about his then-girlfriend and future wife, Beth.
P is for peyote, the hallucinogen that Eddie Vedder claimed was the secret ingredient in his Native American great-grandmother Pearl’s preserves — hence Pearl Jam. Also for: poppycock, which that story has been revealed to be (Vedder does have a great-grandmother named Pearl, but he made the rest up as a joke). The origin of the band’s name is a little muddled; it could have something to do with the combo of a surfing term (“pearl,” a type of wipeout) and a musical term (“jam”). Or it could be something a little more suggestive.
Q is for Quadrophenia, the Who’s rock opera; Pearl Jam did blistering covers of two of that album’s songs — Love, Reign O’er Me and The Real Me — in tribute to the Who at the 2008 VH1 Rock Honors.
R is for Rearviewmirror, a song on Vs. that’s about leaving an abusive relationship, although just what that relationship is has been subject to interpretation. Rearviewmirror is also the title of a Pearl Jam greatest-hits album — a little odd when you consider the subject matter of the original song. Also for: Rats, which follows Rearviewmirror on Vs. and may be the strangest song in Pearl Jam’s repertoire.
S is for Soundgarden, whose drummer, Matt Cameron, played on a demo with Ament, Gossard and McCready that attracted the attention of a young San Diego surfer named Eddie Vedder, who wrote lyrics and added vocals to the music, earning him an invitation to join the band. Also for: surfing, San Diego and, of course, Seattle.
T is for Temple of the Dog, a one-off tribute project to Mother Love Bone’s Wood, featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Its best-known song, Hunger Strike, combined Vedder’s throaty roar with the keening vocals of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell to great effect. Granted, for some, that effect is clearing the room, but we like the song. Also for: Ticketmaster, with which Pearl Jam had a notorious feud over ticket prices in the mid-’90s.
U is for … well, U, a song off of the EP Wishlist that’s about how hard it is to fall in love with “you, you, you.”
V is for Vedder, Eddie, Pearl Jam’s frontman, as well as for the band’s second and third albums, Vs. and Vitalogy. Also for: vinyl, which this band belongs on, even though it broke through during the CD era.
X is for … well, X, the seminal Los Angeles punk band that joined Pearl Jam on a world tour in 2011 and 2012, making this X entry a lot more easy than we thought it would be.
Y is for Young, Neil, who used Pearl Jam as his backing band on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which became Young’s highest-charting album since 1972’s Harvest. Yellow Moon, a song on Pearl Jam’s latest CD, Lightning Bolt, directly quotes Young’s Helpless with the refrain “Yellow moon on the rise.”
Z is for Zinn, Howard, the author of the leftist A People’s History of the United States and an influence on Eddie Vedder, whose song Down on the Lost Dogs CD was inspired by Zinn’s teachings. It’s also for Zoo TV, U2’s 1992-93 tour, during which Pearl Jam opened a couple of shows in Italy — to poor response from Italian fans, who wanted their earnestness and activism from the Irish superstars rather than Seattle grungesters.
Sources: AllMusic.com; Drummerworld; Rolling Stone; Songfacts.com; Internet Movie Database; www.twofeetthick.com; www.davekrusen.com; www.thelineofbestfit.com; Pearl Jam: The Secret History by Alan Cross; Pearl Jam Twenty by Pearl Jam and Cameron Crowe; legendsrevealed.com; www.azlyrics.com; http://xtheband.com; http://exclaim.ca; www.fivehorizons.com; Amazon.com; YouTube.